At the dawn of the 20th century it took a brave rider to tackle a run from Essex to Scotland. But for the writer of this yarn that was only the beginning.
IS TOURING DEAD? I am not going to discuss that. The big gooseberry season is over. I am only going to assert that, after many years of cycle touring and of work in the interests of tourists, my annual mileage is as large as ever, and my love of the open road is as keen as every. The fact is that the true lover of Nature has an appetite that grows by what it feeds upon, and an eye that finds fresh delights whenever a familiar spot is revisited.
Byron, looking back at Harrow school and village, could never have written in his boyhood of the joys of the past: “Unfaded your memory dwells in my breast; your pleasures may still be in fancy possessed.” The flats of Essex or the snows of the Alps, how happy I could be with either, when “memory, fond memory,” adds a glow to the sunset! The man who has travelled has a perspective denied to youth. And the man who is married has enjoyment unknown to the bachelor. When he takes his wife to see the pretty spots he knows so well, he has his reward when she says, “My dear it is all beautiful.”
It was settled that a trailer should be attached to my motor bicycle on my tour. My wife and I together weigh twenty-seven stone. The first step was to put motor cycle spokes in the trailer wheels. The machine was a Regina, strongly built, and almost free from vibration, with a 2¾hp genuine De Dion motor. I had it converted to wipe contact and trembler coil, Bowden thumb-lift for exhaust valve, twisting handle for a switch, and two rim brakes. I always carry my luggage in a large circular bag, secured to the handle-bar by swivel straps. The lamp-bracket is put low down on the side pillar of the triple head. I had a leather bag made to fit the space between the saddle tube and the back forks, and a spare petrol tank fitted into the bag, this being removable.
On our way Northwards.
We started shortly after 6am from our Essex suburb, and made a detour to avoid paving and tram lines. We got onto the North Road at Potter’s Bar. Stag Hill was very loose and flinty. Half-way up a dismount was necessary, but the motor took me to the top without passenger. Here I noticed that a trailer tyre was cut and deflated. A water test and the repair took quite half an hour; then the running on the main road was delightful. We breakfasted at the Salisbury Arms at Hatfield. We resolved to go easily, with the spark fully retarded. Cyclists at Hitchin, however, wanted to accompany us, and we paced them for ten miles. Biggleswade and Buckden were passed, recalling memories of time trials and of the medal dangling from my watch-chain. Alconbury Hill had now no terrors of competitors passing, no perspiring, no pedalling.
We lunched at Norman Cross – another old haunt. Stamford we were glad to get through, as it was market day. Beyond it, we were stopped by the police when rounding a bend with the exhaust lifted. The inspector was courteous, and has not troubled us since. Grantham we remember as the place where we bought petrol. Gonerby Hill led us up, and so did Tuxford Hill. Starting again here on the up-grade I broke the chain while pedalling, but an auxiliary link sufficed for a repair.
The end of the first day.
We had tea at that splendid house, the Ossington Tavern, at Newark. Then on we went to Doncaster, turning in at the Angel before lighting-up time. The cyclometer registered 169 miles for the day. We had agreed to tell nobody on the journey about our mileage. Trailers, you know, may only travel six miles an hour.
Rain fell all night. A mile from the start next morning a trailer tyre punctured. The roads now were vile, slimy, and hilly, requiring great care. We halted at Ferrybridge for breakfast. The switch-back roads were too much for the brittle chain, but I got a bit of spare chain from a repairer and put in a link, after much filing of rivets, whenever the chain broke. Food and fuel at Wetherby set us going again, and we made fast time along the Leeming Lane, which goes straight as an arrow for miles. Approaching Scotch Corner, the trailer tyre burst, and roadside repairs failed. Rain was falling, and we turned off the road and went to Richmond to spend the night and to get a new cover.
How we should have liked to ramble amid the beauties of this neighbourhood! But rain prevented, and besides we had wired to friends in the North to expect us. The weather improved, and the roads were dry when we reached Greta Bridge. Is there any grander sight in England than that from these fells in the sunshine after a storm? If so, I should like to see it, and I have been in every county.
Climbing the steep hills, the chain broke once again. That repair was done very leisurely. The prism binocular was taken out of the trailer basket, and the natives enjoyed a look through the glasses with childish glee. I include myself among the natives. The work over, Stainmore Forest from Bowes was tough. We were glad to see the spiral descent to Brough, and to have tea there.
More chain and tyre troubles.
At Appleby we got an inner tube with some difficulty, but found the other trailer tyre burst. We decided to get to Carlisle whatever the hour, and rode on the rim for about thirty-five miles. We were glad to have the company of cyclists to pilot us for a while in the dark. Penrith almost tempted us to stay, but on we went, feeling the drag on the hills. Scenes of childhood reminded me where to find the village pump at High Hesket, even in the dark, and wine never tasted nicer than that water. Dawn appeared, and very weird was the scene. Lightning often flashed, and lifted the veil of the dim distance. Soon our lamp could be turned out, and in the early morning we bumped over the sets into “ye merrie citie” of Carlisle.
Carlisle is a spokey place; roads radiate from it like a wheel. One day we sprinted to the seaside at twenty miles an hour, and, avoiding a fowl, swerved over a kerb, cracking the trailer connecting tube. The fault was only revealed next day when returning from the Scotch border country. The tube snapped, and tilted up an old gentleman passenger. The trailer was done with, and the return journey to London was made by rail. My wife remained at the seaside, while I went for a sea trip.
Mine was the first motor bicycle seen on the steamer which took me from Harwich to Esbjerg. The oil tank holds a supply for 500 miles. Petrol must not be taken on board, but I arranged before-hand for some motor benzine to be ready for me at Hansen’s shop in Esbjerg. My route crossed Jutland for sixty miles. Scarcely a mile was level, but there were no hills except in and out of the first town – Kolding – forty-five miles distant. The wind swept with great force across unfenced roads. Moorland and pasture, windmills and dairies, they were like recurring decimals. And the dogs – the curs – were too recurring. Ten followed me through one village, barking and running across the track of the front wheel. I laughed when one dropped back sneezing, after a sniff at the exhaust gas, and another ran yelping because the wheel had trod on its toe.
A little knowledge.
The use of signs and a little knowledge of Norwegian enabled me to get my wants supplied in the towns. Frederica brought me to the coast, where a steam ferry takes one in twenty minutes to the island of Fyen. Thirty miles more, over a wide bumpy road, and the capital of the island – Odense – is reached. The prosperous appearance of this town, its large shops and comfortable villas, was a surprise to me. Next morning (Sunday) I soon rolled off the nineteen miles to the ferry at Nyborg, and caught the first steamer across the Great Belt (1¼ hours) to the island of Sjelland. I had lunch of “English Beef” on board. Often afterwards I gave the same order, and it was always steak and onions. The ferry has a double line of rails and takes a whole train on board, thus saving handling the goods.
Only benzine to be had.
At Korsör I was able to get fuel for the motor at 2s 9d per gallon. It was sold by the “pund”, and nine punds go to our gallon. The stuff is called benzine, and it is used for cleaning clothes. Apothecaries sell it everywhere. I found that it overheated the engine and got used up about thirty per cent more quickly than good petrol. Often I stopped to examine the machine, wasting hours in that way, and nothing was defective but the spirit. The effect was to slow the machine every few minutes and to weaken it on hills, but I always got through. There was nothing to detain me for forty-eight miles. Then Roskilde deserved several hours’ stop for lunch and lounge. The cathedral is very prettily situated, and nobody should miss a walk through the tombs of the kings. Twenty-one miles run on a highway crowded with cyclists took me into Copenhagen. The Hotel Germania, by the quay-side, seemed a long way off, especially as a dismount is compulsory in certain asphalted streets; but the quiet, comfortable hotel was worth seeking out.
The lions of Copenhagen.
I had been to Copenhagen before, and knew that its lions were the two T’s – Tivoli and Thorwaldsen. I spent the Sunday evening at the Tivoli Gardens. Forty thousand people were there, and the choice of entertainment seemed endless. The Danes are said to spend more money on pleasure, in proportion to their incomes, than any other country. I do not advise young men to go there; the fair-haired, strong-limbed, rosy-cheeked, merry-eyed Danish lasses will steal their hearts. English ladies may go with impunity. The Danes were so happy, courteous, handsome, prosperous and so friendly with English people that they are bound to have a jolly time of harmless enjoyment. Every educated Dane speaks English.
I cross to Sweden.
Next day I revisited the Thorwaldsen Museum – a marvellous collection of original or replicas comprising practically the whole work of the great sculptor. Then I had to become acquainted with the unique life of Copenhageners at their pretty summer seaside villas, which extend for many miles along the Oresund, to visit the royal deer forests and places, to spend a morning at the Danish Humber works, to get the valves ground in and other slight adjustments made.
Here is the programme of a day’s journey: I left Copenhagen at 7am for Sweden, reaching Malmo by steamer at 8.30. Then I had sixty-five miles to ride over wretched roads, slippery and stony by turn. My principal objective was the cathedral of Lund, the largest in Sweden. Here in a sarcophagus in the crypt I saw a curious effigy – the builder of the place turned to stone, with the beard still on his face, his punishment for trying to pull the church down again. Helsingborg had an industrial exhibition on. At four o’clock I was steaming across to Denmark again (20 minutes), and then spent an hour visiting the castle of Elsinore, the home of Halmet, Prince of Denmark. After tea I rode the thirty miles very fast along the hilly, splendid King’s Road to Copenhagen.
The return journey was the same as the outward one as far as Roskilde; then I turned off to Holback. I had started late in the afternoon, and could only manage forty-one miles before sunset owing to the mysterious behaviour of the machine, since traced to the spirit. Two hours’ overhauling next morning left me too little time to catch my steamer, but I boarded the boat train and got the boat at Kallundborg at 11.35am. This route enabled me to omit the recrossing of the island of Fyen, and 4¾ hours’ sail brought me to Aarhus. One of the pleasantest evening that I have ever spent was occupied in visiting the cathedral, strolling through the beautiful Marselisborg woods, and chatting with residents. The next day was to Veile and its pretty fjord.
I reach Kolding.
I reached Kolding that evening, and the journey next day took me back to Esbjerg over the route already described. I had ridden 900 miles in a little over a fortnight, taken many dozens of photographs, spent several days on steamers, and visiting sights; never stinted myself, travelled first-class, and spent less than half the cost of a previous Scandinavian holiday of the same duration taken without a bicycle. Then think of the freedom, going where I pleased, and changing my plans because I was not hampered by tickets. Except for a broken chain and the mystery of the spirit, I need not have done anything to the machine. Many a motor would not have run at all on such fuel. I carried two batteries, and had both recharged at Carlisle. Only dry batteries are used in Denmark. Motoring is only beginning there, but the Danes are not the people to miss any good thing that is going, and it is safe to prophesy the same rapid progress of motor cycling in Denmark as has taken place in the adoption of pedal cycling.