You can take  Brompton on the Yamanote Line – adventures of an urban bicycle in Japan


Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books for children and adults describe a magical archipelago inhabited by wizards, dragons, pirates, princes and sturdy seafarers. In the far west of Earthsea lie the West Reaches, a remote string of Islands where the rules of magic change and people’s lives are untouched by the business of city life.

Other parts of LeGuin’s fantasy may be modelled on the islands of the Adriatic or coasts of Scandinavia but, for me, the West Reaches can only be the Outer Hebrides. Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis and a host of smaller isles stretch for nearly 200 miles, south to north, out in the Atlantic off the west coast of Scotland. For years I had pored over the maps, imagining myself and my bike hopping from island to island, and this trip to the outer isles became a promise to myself, finally kept in August 2003.

Due North

Where will I go? There are journeys that you don’t have to search out – the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostella, the Pennine Way, The Silk Route, the Kyber Pass Railway. They wait and you only have to choose them.

Other journeys sneak up on you.

When I lived in Halifax in West Yorkshire, I sometimes visited my friend, the typographic designer David Plumb, in Aysgarth in North Yorkshire and over time I began to realise that the route between our homes ran almost directly north. Tracing it on a map and seeing where it extended to I formed the idea of one day cycling along its meridian, which crossed each of the watersheds between the Yorkshire Dales and touched many beautiful places.

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