4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
It is really hard being a travel writer when you’re not allowed to travel. This was the problem that Simon Parker had as the pandemic swept around the world at the beginning of 2020. Gone were the fancy flight and stays in nice hotels that were his natural habitat in his career as a travel journalist. His partner’s public relations business had more or less folded and they had no income and didn’t know when they would be able to earn again.
They had to give up their flat and move elsewhere and then to top it all a close friend died. The anxiety that he somehow had managed to keep suppressed began to bubble up and he knew that if he didn’t do something soon he would be a total lost cause. The therapies that he knew would work were travelling and exercise and it was these two activities that he turned to. He made a plan to cycle from the most northerly point on the British Isles, and he paused, overlooking the magnificently named Muckle Flugga, a lighthouse in Shetland. He climbed on his bike and cycled away.
Apart from the odd training ride, he had done very little training and he knew that he was going to feel it very soon. It was a journey that he hoped would help him meet new people and experience new things, the first person he came across on Shetland that he wanted to ask the way was a postman. His PPE was one stage down from a hazmat suit and it was then it dawned on him that cycling in the midst of a covid pandemic, might not be the trip he had envisaged.
Travel, I was reminded, was only ever a force for good.
It would change though and the people that he would meet as he cycled south would show kindness and generosity in equal measure. Not only is it an exploration of Scotland and England at 15mph on a bicycle in the midst of a pandemic, but it is a journey through Parker’s mind as he battles with self-doubt, anxiety and his mental health. On top of that, he has had to cope with the grief of losing two close friends. But in amongst that maelstrom he somehow manages to hang on and the dark moments fade away with the help of friends, family and the strangers that he meets on his ride.
I liked this a lot. Not only is it a really good travel book about his two journeys around the coast of the UK in the time of the pandemic and numerous lockdowns but Parker is using it to be open about addressing sensitive and complex issues about his mental health. It goes to prove that the greatest adventure you can have is not scaling vast mountain ranges, rather is it coming to terms with your abilities and limits.