4 out of 5 stars
I have been up and down the A1 on a few occasions, but it is not a road that I know that well. The road that it replaced, the Great North Road, ceased to exist in 1921, but if you knew where to look on the maps then you could still trace the route from London to Edinburgh.
For the centenary of this moment, Steve Silk has decided that he wants to try and follow the 500-mile route (there is a song in that) over 11 days as best he can on his bike. He wants to see if he can find the old coaching inns that were described in the book by Charles G Harper who undertook a similar journey on a bike which at the time was a new technology.
He doesn’t begin the journey in the oddly named street of St Martin’s-le-Grand, where the mail coaches began, he has chosen a bike café nearby. He has his photo taken with his old fashioned bike, a Jamis Aurora and heads out into the London traffic. A very angry skip lorry driver nearly makes sure that is as far as he gets, but he survives and he is soon passing the M25 on the way to the first day’s stop Stevenage.
His chosen route will take him through and past towns and cities such as Stevenage, Doncaster and Newcastle. However, the real jewels of this journey are the villages that he passes through and the stories that they have to tell him. He gets to meet and eat the Bedfordshire Clanger (not from the TV series), discovers who ‘Drunken Barnaby’ is, goes to see the Devil’s Arrows and visits many battlefield sites.
I think Steve has taken a simple premise and made a really good job of writing a interesting and entertaining book about parts of the UK that I know only a little about. It is about the ride, but it is also about discovering more about the places he travels through. He is endlessly curious and sees everything with a journalist’s eye and finds the nuggets of information that reveal our rich and varied past. I liked that he wasn’t trying to break any records, it was just him and his bike and hundreds of years of history to explore.