I’m not quite sure where the idea of cycling from Wall to Wall originated but I think that a bottle of wine was involved somewhere during the decision-making process. Once we had decided the title of our bike ride, we fixed a leaving date, told our friends and family what we intended to do, kissed our grandchildren goodbye and set off on a cold October day from Banks Turret on Hadrian’s Wall with the vague hope that we would eventually reach the Great Wall of China.
“Just think of it like eating an elephant” a friend suggested. “You wouldn’t be able to eat the whole thing in one go, just eat small mouthfuls at a time”.
With that ghastly thought in our heads we set off on a circuitous route through Europe then on into Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, over the Caspian Sea and into Central Asia. We arrived at the far western end of the Great Wall of China 13 months later, very happy, very tired and without the faintest idea of how we would get home again.
We haven’t travelled by plane for about 10 years and don’t intend to do so ever again because of the massive damage it does to our already extremely damaged environment. We had a relatively low carbon trip to China and apart from the occasional, necessary ferry, we had cycled all the way. We wanted an equally low carbon journey home and now had to think seriously about how we could do that. We spent many happy hours in a very nice hotel in Jiayuguan researching our options. It would be possible to continue cycling to Beijing where we could get the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow, another train to Paris and cycle home from there. This seemed feasible, the downside being that it was November in China and bitterly cold. We had crossed the Gobi Desert in freezing temperatures and camped at -15ºC. We were fed up of being cold and to continue to Beijing would have meant more of the same.
We had heard that some container ships took a limited number of passengers and after lots of emails to-ing and fro-ing with a shipping agent based in New Zealand, we bought tickets for a ship that would leave Singapore in 3 months’ time.
We then got back on our bikes and cycled through southern China, beautiful Laos, Thailand and Malaysia suddenly feeling as if we were on holiday, swimming and sitting on beaches eating coconuts.
Arriving in Singapore was like entering a parallel universe where people wore smart clothes and certainly didn’t ride bicycles, but we had an interesting week there before boarding our extremely large container ship taking 16,000 containers to Southampton and beyond. It was a three-week journey with apparently very little to do but we enjoyed it immensely and see it as one of the main highlights of the whole of our 18-month journey. We spent large periods of time visiting the bridge where the very friendly crew welcomed us with coffee every morning explaining maps, speed and the workings of the ship to the point where we felt we could have driven it ourselves. We ate well with three large meals a day and had a very comfortable and spacious cabin with an en-suite bathroom. We walked 4 times around the deck every day – a distance of 4 kms – and spent time on exercise bikes in a small gym. We still had to cycle from Southampton back to Cumbria so didn’t want to lose our fitness!
It was very relaxing. There was no internet. We read, I knitted, Pete played a keyboard, we sorted the 5000 photos taken on our journey, slept a lot, ate a lot, watched flying fishes and dolphins and saw one solitary whale. We crossed the Indian ocean passing in sight of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we got excited when other ships came into view and marvelled at the vastness of the ocean. We travelled slowly through the Suez Canal and popped out happily into the Mediterranean with home just another week away. We arrived at Southampton in hot sunshine on Easter Sunday and a great feeling of happiness at being home again. Travelling home so slowly felt right and certainly much better than a 12-hour whizz through the air when our bodies would have arrived home before our brains.
I would say to anybody who is considering giving up flying to go for it. Quite apart from reducing our impact on the environment, using trains, ferries, buses and now ships has given us more fun than we would have had flying. You meet people, have experiences, see more and observe life in all its variety and intensity. It doesn’t mean you have to give up travelling to interesting places and you don’t have to cycle. Our journey could have all been done by train – maybe that’s what we will do next time!!