Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain
By George Mahood
7.30 am in the morning, Land’s End, Cornwall England.
Two men stand in their boxers, just their boxers. It is colder than what they’d bargained for, the gravel cuts into their feet, and they get more than a few ‘what are the weirdos upto’ galnces.
That’s George and Ben – a photographer and a composer/actor respectively.
So what are they doing, almost naked, at Land’s End? For the geographically challenged, Land’s End is the most South Westerly part of England. This slightly crazy duo plans to cover the length of England, from Land’s End to the top of Scotland, a distance of about a 1000 miles, on bikes without money, clothes, shoes, food …… or bikes. Yeah right, they have no bikes just yet. Or maps to guide them either.
They are counting on the generosity of strangers to lend them bikes, feed them, clothe them and give them a place to sleep each night.
Stranger than fiction, right?
The book traces their adventures as they cycle on a mountain bike and child’s road bike (Yeah they do manage to get those), through the length of England and finish the trip on the terms they’d set out with.
This book is definitely more about the journey than the destination – a hilarious, heartwarming journey. George and Ben wind their way through back roads and tiny towns, giving us a ride through the gorgeous English countryside.
However, what remains with me is the sheer audacity of their endeavour. Being a rather self-conscious person, I can only commend the courage it takes to approach a stranger and ask for a favour. And here are these two men asking not just for food, but also clothes and shoes and bikes, then bike repairs, all for free. They even mange to wheedle out ice creams, free ferry rides and a night in the theatre too. They are ready to wash dishes, clean hotels, sing carols, cook a barbecue and even scavenge rubbish bins.
The other thing that struck me was the positivity in the book. There is very little mention of the physical challenges the journey must have thrown up. For untrained people to cycle three weeks at a stretch mustn’t have been easy. Yet they do not dwell upon hurting knees, going hungry or meeting unpleasant people, not to say about putting up with each other under such stressful circumstances and shared meagre resources.
They bicker and argue ‘like an old couple’ but most of the way it is a laugh-out-loud journey full of ready humour and plenty of wit that reminded me of a Bill Bryson travelogue.
If you like travelogues this one’s for you. If you do not, read it to reaffirm your faith in people, read it to believe that the world is yours if you have the gumption to take it on or read it simply for a few laughs.
I am with Team #CrimsonRush