A Great British Adventure

A Great British Adventure

Just 12 weeks ago, James was astride his Noble Steed, in the grips of an icy Scottish winter, riding headfirst into the storms which have plagued the UK for the last few months. He hadn’t seen his wife or children for weeks and he was facing another night in a tent - the escalating Omicron crisis was making it impossible for him to seek shelter elsewhere, despite the severe weather conditions. Things were Not Going to Plan; but James was unperturbed, because his plan had changed some time ago. This was hard going, yes, but he wasn’t going to stop; not right now, and not because of the weather. The further he rode, the tougher the conditions, the more money he raised for the charity which had inspired him to take on this challenge; the World Land Trust. His phone alerted him to each incoming donation, an instant injection of enthusiasm and pride. He pictured Laguna Grande, the particular area which he is working to preserve, as a giant jigsaw puzzle; every donation adding in a piece of precious rainforest. James was battling unprecedented weather - the result of the climate change which he was fundraising to halt - and every turn of the pedal was worth it.

The right time to stop didn’t come to James in the depths of a storm, nor during a freezing cold night, when most would probably expect such thoughts and doubts to creep in and resignation to take hold. It came on one sunny, cold day beside Harlech Castle, nestled in the Snowdonia National Park; and it was far from a negative moment. James had successfully made it up to Scotland, cut across from East to West coast, and was steadily making his way down back towards home. So why stop when the going is good? James was worried about stopping - not because he felt it was the wrong time to do so; he knew, instinctually, that it was time - but because he was worried that the hundreds of people following his journey would be disappointed. “People were invested in my journey; people that I had never met, people that I had met along the way, people that I’d known for years. I felt I had to justify why I was finishing, so I did my best to explain. If it was time to stop, it was time to stop. I knew I would have to make the call at some point. And, looking back on it, I definitely came home at the right time; not just because of the danger of the storms and Covid, but for my family, and for me. Whilst I was still really enjoying the journey, I was also missing home more than I ever had before. I had more than tripled my original fundraising target, and I felt content with what I had achieved. This was never about completing a circuit from A to B; it was about getting as far as I could, and I’d done that and much more.”

Great British Adventure
James had been living day to day, hour to hour, with his sole focus each day being on moving himself and his bike forwards around the coast. “It was such a simple state of being; I’d wake up, pack up my things, eat, and get going. Then I’d stop, do it all again, and go to sleep. Looking after my kit, feeding myself, and moving in the right direction, with no expectation of where I will be or when; it was freeing.” It took some time for James to get used to this way of living; as a father with a day job, he simply wasn’t used to thinking only of his own solitary practical existence from day to day. “Once I let go of my initial plan, to arrive in certain places on certain days, and accepted that the elements simply wouldn’t allow that, the journey took on a whole new meaning for me. It unlocked something in me and in my journey which allowed me to be fully present, experiencing each moment for what it was, rather than as a fleeting moment in my focus on reaching my destination.

“There’s a lot of theory around adventure - again, something I find interesting but which I’ve never studied. I’m an outdoor coach, so I know the practicalities and the how-to’s, but suddenly I was really experiencing what we call self-guided discovery and experiential learning. I watch children experience it all the time; allowing them to discover nature, or find new things to do with a simple cardboard box. People can discover totally new things about the same item or experience when they go into it with an open mind and the freedom to explore. I thought this was going to be a physical endurance mission; and of course it was physically demanding, but the real journey for me was in meeting people, seeing amazing things, and reflecting on the journey itself and what it meant to me. Once I decided to just take it as it came, stick near the coast, and appreciate every moment, the journey instantly became easier, mentally, and more meaningful.”

“The meaning of adventure and what the cycle meant to me changed as time went by, with the more people I met” says James. “I’m not someone who approaches strangers for a chat; I tend to keep myself to myself. But I realised people were interested in what I was doing; they would stop and ask me questions, offer help, link me up with others, and tell me their stories too. My adventure went from being ‘let’s see how far round the coastline of Britain I can get in the depths of winter’ to experiencing what makes Great Britain so great; its people. The people were the museum, they were the living history.”

Just two days after Christmas, in Maryport, on the West Cumbrian coast, James came across a sculpture by Colin Telfer. Named ‘A Fishy Tale’ the sculpture depicts two local fisherman, a young boy, and a dog, all crafted in iron ore - with the artist Telfer being the first artist to use this medium in sculpture. James was taking in the sculpture when he realised there was an older gentleman standing nearby. James apologised for keeping him waiting, to which the gentleman responded “Not a problem, it’s nice to see someone appreciating the sculpture. I was here when it was made; I helped Colin make it. That’s actually my dog!” Upon further discussion, it turned out the dog featured in the sculpture was a replica of Kizzy, a rescue dog who had been owned by the gentleman - who was also, funnily enough, called James.

“This happened a lot; meeting people and hearing their amazing stories. It was a series of wonderful coincidences, and this one felt particularly special, as James was an older gentleman; part of a bygone generation. I began to truly appreciate the human history around me. I marvelled at how accents would change from town to town, merging from one distinct sound into another as I crossed county borders. The changes in architecture, history, how people behaved; it was extraordinary and something that I really didn’t anticipate.” James was given lots of route advice from locals; some helpful, some less so, leading him astray down uncycleable paths and to dead ends. “But that was the great thing; I’d take a path and it wouldn’t work out, but I’d see something or meet someone that I would never have seen or met if I hadn't gone that way. And in turn, they would show me the way, or tell me something interesting, or I’d take in a view or see something historic which I would have never known about. I’m not a reader; I’d love to be able to study history and anthropology but I struggle to sit still long enough. This was the perfect way for me to learn about these places and people which I never would have even heard of before."

Marloe office

“I thought a lot about the Marloe tag line of ‘time well spent’; Gordon had mentioned it to me when we met at the Marloe offices once I had reached Scotland. I couldn't shake it from my head, mulling it over as I rode for days on end. I had, by this point, decided to cut across Scotland and head back down towards England down the West coast. I was in the Welsh valleys, where I had done much of my outdoor training; somewhere so meaningful to me which had given me so much. I had come to realise that I was, at that moment, fully in control of how I was spending my time each day, with no external influence. I’d had an amazing six weeks, but if I had continued past the point where my gut instinct told me to stop, it would no longer have been time well spent. It would have been time taken away from me, and my family, time that I was spending doing something which would put me at risk. Those six weeks were such a huge learning experience for me, and my family; but to push it any longer would have been foolish.”

And so James found himself sitting on an incredible carved wooden throne at Harlech Castle, taking in the breathtaking views, deciding that within the next couple of days, he was going to stop. “I had no regrets whatsoever, finishing my journey at this point was 100% the right decision. I knew that because I felt it. Nothing more”. Gut instinct is perhaps one of the most powerful tools us humans possess; and James listened to his. There’s no nobility in putting yourself in a dangerous situation when there’s no need to do so. The smart way to adventure is to use the resources around you, rest when you need to, and know your limits. When you’re up against not just abnormally stormy weather but a global pandemic which is shutting down all facilities, there are going to be limits imposed upon you which you may never have anticipated, let alone been able to prepare for. Even the most iconic and experienced of adventurers would have accepted help should it have been offered; I'm sure Captain Scott and his party would have welcomed a ride to safety, some supplies and warmth should the situation have arisen. The situation which James could see unfolding was one where he would be a long way from any assistance, in threat-to-life level storms, with no shelter; and that’s not a wise position for an adventurer to put himself in, let alone a father with young children.

“I had a Suunto with me. I had initially chosen to take it because it told me the temperature, and because it seemed like an appropriate piece of kit, but it spent the vast majority of the journey at the bottom of my backpack. I used it for two days and I just didn’t like it; because I was paying attention to all of the data it was giving me - my heart rate, the temperature, my position on a map, how far I’d ridden that day, how many calories I had burned. It was data that I didn’t need to know; I could feel when it was cold or when I was hungry, I didn’t need to know exactly where I was. It detracted from my enjoyment of the journey. My Haskell did exactly what I needed it to do; it just told the time, and served as a reminder to spend it well. It was simple, sturdy, and it kept me company. It just resonated perfectly with me, on this particular Great British adventure. In deciding to spend my time well, I decided to end this particular adventure, in that moment and that place where it felt right, and go home to share it with the people who matter most to me”.

Great British Adventure
James isn’t done with adventuring; far from it. His Cycle for Change experience has made him realise the power of human connection; over 900 acres of Laguna Grande rainforest has been saved and will be protected thanks to his efforts and the generosity of his supporters. He is already dreaming up his next adventure, and he has unfinished business with the wild North of Scotland. For now, however, he’s just happy to be home in the warm with his family; and he’s got a comprehensive supply of adventure-themed bedtime stories for his two sons, pulled straight from his memories of the epic journey he undertook.

You can still follow along with James’ adventures via his Instagram page, and you can donate to the World Land Trust here - together, we are making a real difference in preserving these crucial ecosystems, not just for the benefit of the incredible array of wildlife who live within the rainforest, but for the recovery and ongoing health of our planet.

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1 comment

  • What a great read…. I’m super impressed with James and his incredible achievement…and glad his beautiful Haskell gave him that constant reminder to spend his time well..
    It was definitely time well spent reading this journal.. thank you 🙏

    Alan Lewis

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